Penguin Classics Unleashes the Origin of Marvel Tales

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June 14e 2022, Penguin Classics Marvel Collection releases three volumes: The Amazing Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain America. Released under the editorial direction of English professor and director of cartooning and comics students at the University of Oregon, Ben Saunders, each of these volumes features the first appearances of legendary superheroes; Captain America, Black Panther and Spider-Man.

These character-defining books were built by the original Marvel writers and creators; Stan Lee, Joe Simoni, Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, John Romita Jr. Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and Steve Ditko. The collection features compelling introductory essays detailing the broad cultural influences and impact of each of the characters. Saunders proposed trials for American Captain and The Amazing Spider-Man and a Qiana J. Whitted presents Black Panther. Plus, acclaimed authors, Gene Luen Yang, Jason Reynolds, Nnedi Okorafor, all wrote insightful and interesting fronts.

In a recent interview with PT, Saunders shared some of his experience as curator for the inclusion of Marvel superheroes in the Penguin Classics line of established literary works. Here are some excerpts from their interview; for the full interview, please see: Penguin Classics adds Marvel to the literary canon, by Brigid Alverson (July 6e 2022).

PT: How did you decide what would go in and what wouldn’t?

Saunders: “A lot of comic book collectors have this instinct for completeness: you don’t want issues 1, 3, 7. You want them all. But I think we’re now at a point with this material where we can instead think in terms of introducing a key character or story element that plays out over 50 years of material. For the Spider-Man volume, for example, one of the most striking things about the Lee and Ditko run is the number of extraordinary villains created during this time and Ditko’s inventiveness. So, we have the first appearances of these characters, which a whole generation of people only know from their cinematic iterations.

PT: Where does Black Panther fit into this?

Saunders: “…I think [Lee and Kirby] were thinking ‘How do we introduce a super powerful black character into our universe in 1966?’ They didn’t know anything about Africa except what they had learned from the pulps, and they decided, well, let’s reverse all the clichés that we know of these things… and if we made it the site of the tech company the most advanced on the planet? And of course, the cultural status of this character has transformed over the past five years or so, due to the success and social importance of the film. So that seemed like a significant volume to release early in the series.

Moreover, Saunders relates that Jim Steranko only wrote three issues of American Captain, and how, according to Saunders, Steranko was trying to “bring things back to the character’s vision of World War II”. Saunders goes on to explain how Stan Lee stepped in to change the direction of Captain America’s story by focusing on the theme of “the timeless man who keeps asking questions.” As such, it’s very interesting to read Steranko’s original version of Captain America in the context of the history of the time.

These three books are of course fantastic in themselves. However, with the added bonus of insightful forewords, essays and introductions offered by today’s writers and creators, reading these stories is now an entirely new experience, one that is surprisingly quite challenging and intriguing. The stories are available in print and electronically.

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